I Pledge Allegiance To…
Starting July 3rd, I started seeing Happy 4th of July posts on my social media from people across the globe, spanning multiple time zones and continents. Today, the festivities are over, but it is still a bank holiday for observance, so I’ve been thinking about the multitude of flags, stared & striped top hats, red, white, & blue clothing, and pinwheels I’ve seen in the last week. A few posts, in particular, caught my attention. Often they had a hint of anger or boldness or defiance – they all called for viewers to refuse to be ashamed of any wrongdoing associated with the country or proudly proclaim, “I pledge allegiance to the flag.”
What’s Wrong With Patriotism?
Nothing really. Who doesn’t want to be proud of their nation of residence? The thing is, I am conflicted. My mother was two things – deeply religious and very proud of her adopted country. I could not even attempt to count the number of times she told me, “In America, Jack is as good as his master,” or “I always heard back home that ‘the streets were paved with gold in America.'” We always supported the military and were proud of all our family members who served. I would consider us a very patriotic family. I knew flag etiquette – never let it hit the ground, replace it if it gets damaged, never drape it on your person, never wear it on a hat or as clothing, fold it properly, and on and on. But there was more to our patriotism than reverence for the flag.
Let Me Explain
Growing up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I noticed how often my mother would be asked about her “sign.” She always reached the same way. She recoiled. Then she stood tall and would respond, “I am under the sign of the cross.” Every single person she said this to would chuckle and explain that they meant her zodiac sign. She would repeat herself, steely-faced and determined. Some would get the point. Others would press for her birthdate. She would never tell them the day she was born, but she would tell them what she meant by being born under the sign of the cross. It meant she was a Christian, and the only thing she needed to know was that she was forgiven.
This attitude extended to other areas of our lives as well. I spent a year in catholic school at one point – it was a trial. Each morning we were instructed to recite several things at assembly – one of which was the Hail Mary. Mom instructed me that under no circumstances was I to pray the Hail Mary. It was an odd directive since we had always attended a catholic church.
But she didn’t leave me in the dark. Mary was a person, Heather. She is not God. She can not answer prayer. None of the saints can. Only God can do that, and you can speak directly to God yourself. You can pray to Jesus. You can read your own bible. So, don’t hail any person – only God. I didn’t. I would say the Our Father, but never any of the prayers to the saints or Blessed Mother. Her explanation made sense. Her conviction was real – she had a rebellious reverence only for Christ.
That brings me back to the flag. Mom taught me to never swear allegiance to anything or anyone but Christ. I’m not convinced that one has to – to be honorable, loyal, faithful, or honest. I don’t think pledges make people patriotic or keep their word. So, while I understand the desire to honor and revere the flag, the flag is merely a symbol of what the country it is supposed to represent. I think it would be more meaningful to swear allegiance to the constitution. I pray the Lord blesses this country. I hope that people do not confuse tradition with patriotism. And I hope that our country will one day be able to put aside our hurt feelings, defensiveness, and anger so that we can move forward in understanding.
This is one of my favorite anthems. It is American to its very core. It recognizes the struggle and applauded the progress. It is a prayer for the future. The poem was written by James Weldon Johnson, his brother Rosamund wrote the melody.
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land
Our native land